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Thursday, August 19, 2021

The "Detectives of Death"

     Medical examiners are the only doctors whose patients are dead and therefore silent. They cannot explain why they died, so we have to find out in other ways. We are the detectives of death--we visit the scene; we examine the medical evidence and the laboratory findings and put them together with the circumstances and the patient's medical history. Through the autopsy, we make the body speak to us. Deciphering the message is an art as well as a science.

     Our medical specialty is forensic pathology. We know about the three kinds of unnatural death--suicides, homicides, and accidents. We are trained to analyze traumatic injuries--gunshot and stab wounds, blunt force, and poison. Our work is different from that of the hospital pathologists who autopsy bodies to study the ravages of disease. Our methods are different from those of doctors who care for the living and whose concern is more the treatment than the cause. We want to know how the knife went in, from above or below, and where the person who wielded it was standing; which bullet hole was the entrance and which the exit and where the shot came from. Medically, these things may be irrelevant, but in a courtroom they are extremely significant in deciding the cause and manner of death and reconstructing how it happened.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner, 1989

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